You’d think I could remember a pet named Romeo. It wasn’t intentional, leaving “guinea pig” off the list of different pets I’d experienced caring for. But to be honest, his name wasn’t just Romeo.
It was the late 1960s, and my sister and I tried out several names for him. Finally we agreed on Romeo, after naming him Phillip, Fang, and Smitty (the first names of some musicians on an afternoon teen TV show we enjoyed watching).
In researching the guinea pig on the Internet recently, I learned more than a few things about our pet.
I had heard them referred to as cavies, but they are neither pigs, nor Guineas, so the origin of their popular name is not easily determined. Similar to an animal which lives in the wild in South America, guinea pigs may have been introduced in North America as pets as early as the 1700s.
Like humans, guinea pigs bear live young, and are able to nurse their babies. Cavies have an upper and lower pair of incisor teeth in addition to molars, making a full set of 20 teeth. These animals are capable of major league gnawing, and because of the lifelong growth of their teeth, they depend on this ability to prevent the tongue from being blocked. Guinea pigs have no tail, and four-toed front paws, and three-toed back paws. The female matures between 4-5 weeks, and males mature from 8-10 weeks old. Their lifespan is anywhere from 2 to 7 years old.
They need a cool environment, not drafty, in the range of 65-75〫F. A good cage would have a hardware cloth-type floor which would allow droppings to fall to a removable tray for cleanout. The floor’s holes should be small enough to prevent getting a leg caught in the mesh. Bedding can be cedar or pine shavings, but whatever is chosen should be replaced every other day, depending on how soiled it gets. Daily scooping of feces can be made easier by training the guinea pig to use an item similar to a kitty litter pan in its cage.
A bottle is preferred to a water bowl in order to avoid getting the cage’s bedding wet. Water is important: these pets really need it!
Pellets made just for guinea pigs are available at virtually every pet store. Hay is also in their diet, and fresh greens. We used to take Romeo outdoors to let him graze on grass in the summer. Our cat, who would spend hours perched over Romeo’s cage, watching, was surprised one day to see Romeo out on the lawn, and closed in on him for a better view. Just as he neared Romeo, who was outweighed by about 10 pounds, the guinea pig turned and began running full speed, right at the cat. This so startled the cat that he jumped straight up in the air, turned, and lit out in the opposite direction as fast as paws could carry him. After that episode, the cat kept his distance.
There is information available on the Internet with more details than I can provide here about guinea pig care. For an in-depth look try this web site about guinea pig care.